LBC, MMR, Jeni Barnett, an Early Day Motion, the Times, and, er, a bit of Stephen Fry…

February 10th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, jeni barnett, LBC, legal chill, MMR, regulating media, scare stories, stifling criticism | 155 Comments »

I thought since a few days have passed that I should let you know what’s happening with the slightly ridiculous LBC situation. If you skip to the bottom you will find a discussion on some mischievous activism which I think has great potential.

Since LBC unwisely threw their legal weight around to prevent you from being able to freely experience and ponder that astonishing 44 minute tirade against MMR, the inevitable has happened. The audio has been posted on a huge number of websites around the world, over 120 blogs so far are linking to the story, and more importantly, hundreds of thousands of people are talking and reading about the ignorance that Jeni Barnett exemplified in that worrying broadcast. It has been covered in the Times, and an Early Day Motion is being set down in parliament.

We should remember that this is not about Jeni – and it goes without saying that you should not be abusive towards her – it’s about how her work on the 7th of January exemplified everything the media has done for ten years now to create a vaccine panic, and it’s about the fact that we should be free to discuss that, and hear the clip, as it is instructive, and will help everyone to better understand how people like this help to create outbreaks of serious diseases.

The blogs covering the story are all listed below but a few really stand out.

Firstly, these six appeared out of the blue and into the fray, devoting hours to producing a transcript in the hope that this would be less likely to trigger legal action from LBC. I’m extremely grateful for their moral support:

Part 1 – Science Punk
Part 2 – The Lay Scientist
Part 3 – PodBlack Cat
Part 4 – The Skeptic’s Book
Part 5 – Science Punk
Part 6 – Holford Watch

The audio has appeared in more places than I can count, with WikiLeaks being a clear example, as well as the inevitable YouTube.

Listening again, you really can hear how well Jeni exemplifies the media’s misrepresentations which have caused so much harm to public health. We’ve had a mumps outbreak in 2005, and now measles is on the rise. The looong story is spread around the sciencier bits of the web (or if you like paper then in my book, or this one) but essentially you can see the history of the vaccine panic in two sets of graphs. Infectious diseases had of course been declining for a couple of centuries, but this is when vaccines were introuced:

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You can also see that the MMR vaccine, and a concerted coverage programme, was associated with an almost final drop in measles. And then on the following graphs we can see what happened when people like Jeni Barnett, Melanie Philips, Carol Vorderman, and the entire British news media decided that vaccines cause autism.

One major mumps outbreak so far in 2005, causing infertility and worse, and now an impressively rapid year on year rise in measles:

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Measles is not a trivial infection for everyone who gets it. Some will have brain damage, some will die.

The debate is no longer about MMR, it is about the dangers of an ill-informed media, and that’s why I’m so glad to see that people are finally taking notice of how startlingly irresponsible so many journalists and editors have been in this regard.

Prominent appearances for this LBC episode include David Aaronovitch in The Times, Start the Week on Radio 4, Cory on BoingBoing, Stephen Fry, the Press Gazette, Paul Flynn MP, Guido and Ars Technica, to name a few, although the glamorous ones aren’t as cool as my real friends. There are also podcasts coming on journalism.co.uk (which I genuinely recommend as a good read btw), Out Law, and more.

As I said, there is an Early Day Motion going down in parliament today from Norman Lamb and Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat shadows for Health and Science respectively. Please encourage your MP to sign it, the easiest way to contact them is through TheyWorkForYou, and the EDM is Number 754:

“That this house expresses its support for the use of the combined MMR vaccine, notes with concern the re-emergence of measles and the loss of life and long term health problems which will afflict children as a result of the decline in the vaccination rate which followed Dr Andrew Wakefield’s now discredited research paper suggesting a link between MMR and autism; expresses its disappointment that ill-informed comments by presenters such as Jeni Barnett on her LBC radio show will continue to cause unfounded anxieties for many parents and are likely to result in some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, recognises the right of Jeni Barnett as a parent to make her own judgement about vaccinations for her own children but implores her and others in the media to act more responsibly when making comments in the public domain and expresses its hope that in the future, reporting of the issue of MMR will be less sensationalist and more evidence based”

I assume (and I suppose hope) that I will hear no more from the lawyers at Global Radio and LBC now that I’ve taken down the clip, and in any case it can now be freely heard and discussed all over the place. As John Gilmore said: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. If they return making threats I don’t know what I will do, but we can cross that bridge.

It’s been interesting to learn about the law from a dozen or so passing lawyers who have popped up to comment. Basically, there is no clear answer on whether posting 44 minutes of foolishness for discussion is legal or not, and the only way to find out is to go to court. Now, given that lawyers are expensive, and the loser is probably liable for the winner’s legal fees, it strikes to me that a company like Global Radio worth over half a billion pounds has a bit of an advantage in this situation, since losing, for me, would mean losing, well, I don’t actually have anything to lose.

My point is, without being too Billy Bragg about it all: this is a law that apparently works a bit better for wealthy people.

I think it is reasonable to find this frustrating. In medicine we have protocols: we try to lay out very clearly and simply how something works, what the likely outcomes are, the best moves, and so on. I don’t see why this would be difficult in law. Doctors and academics have been bending over backwards to make their work readily accessible and understandable to people outside the profession for many years, with considerable success. Lawyers, meanwhile, with the assistance of judges and those who make laws, seem sometimes to make their money out of obfuscation, out of the uncertainties and continent-sized grey areas. To me that’s not just unhealthy, it also feels eerily unfamiliar, to come across an industry where so many key players seem to have a paradoxical interest in making things not work.

Anyway.

Before we get onto a nice quote from Jeni I think it would be good to discuss what we can do about all of this. Obviously you must get your MP to sign the EDM. I’ve also been chatting to Simon Singh (I just write and talk, he’s much more sinister than me when it comes to strategy) and we have informally considered a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience, essentially everyone phoning in to LBC whenever Jeni (or anyone?) is on, demanding an apology, some public recognition of the harm that can come from irresponsible broadcasting, and an undertaking that she will not broadcast on the topic of health again without getting a basic understanding of the issues.

I’m not sure about this, as I think there is moral high ground to be lost, but I would be very glad of your views. It is certainly the case that while newspapers and TV stations can and do ignore their public, collectively we could actually cripple the phone-in component of LBC, in response to their irresponsible broadcasting, as an act of protest, which is an interesting thought.

There is complaining to OFCOM, although I have no doubt that they will prove to be as spineless as the PCC, and it’s possible that their constitution is written in such a way that complaints about this kind of obvious wrongdoing are not upheld. Gimpyblog notes: “Jeni Barnett may be irresponsible and unapologetic but she is acting within her rights, and apparently
within OFCOM guidelines, which are firm on subjects such as sex, drugs and the occult, but not on public health”. It’s hard to see how the Jonathan Ross / Russell Brand / Andrew Sachs saga is a huge issue but this, on public health, is not, but there you go.

Those who have written to LBC seem to have received “we did little wrong and we fixed it fine ourselves” responses from their Programme Director (he gave me, I am sorry to say, what I experienced as gales of shouty self-righteousness when he telephoned me, which I felt was an unhelpful use of “off the record”, but I have no interest in personal disputes). This all suggests to me that there is little insight, and therefore little chance of improvement internally at LBC. It may be worth complaining to the parent company Global Radio, although I can’t find a clear way to.

update someone has sent me these: “charles.allen@thisisglobal.com – chairman of Global; richard.park@thisisglobal.com – big cheese (Headmaster on Fame Academy)”

There is also, of course, the wider issue. You could regard this as your stimulus to make a pledge to take on anti-vaccine quacks wherever they appear, and make a deposit in the karma bank, promising to write a letter, or a blog entry, or make a formal complaint about the next outburst you see in the media. I think this is very important.

Please let me know if you have any other ideas.

And lastly I will leave you with some Jeni joy. After explaining endlessly that all she wanted to do was “start a debate” (because in the media everything is 50:50, and the truth lies exactly half way between the two most extreme views), Jeni has first deleted a couple of hundred comments from her blog, criticising her ideas and actions. Like a poem about the media’s MMR coverage for the past 10 years, it seems this is a “debate” where one person asking stupid questions has complete control over the microphones and can edit, delete, and disappear views at will. It is no longer permissible, for example, to read any defenses of Yasmin on Jeni’s site, the nurse who rang in to disagree with LBC’s presenter from an informed perspective. Jeni describes this nurse, on her now commentless “blog”, as “vicious”.

Luckily Jeni’s posts, and all comments to the blog, are archived for you by Le Canard Noir here:

www.quackometer.net/blog/2009/02/jeni-barnett-have-you-lost-something.html

I don’t think Yasmin was vicious. I think she was very polite and patient. I don’t think if I was LBC I would welcome a wealthy presenter with a platform using it to attack a member of the public who rang in to my radio station, but there you go. Yasmin and I have spoken since and she is pursuing her own formal complaints. How can I demonstrate her unviciousness to you? With the clip itself. Here is Yasmin talking to Jeni. She’s very good.

TIMESTAMP 39:00 into Jeni Barnett LBC Segment, 7 January 2009.

JB: And I think that the reason you fill up my telephone-there are no calls being able to come in at the minute- is because you’re phoning is because there isn’t a definitive answer. There is no absolute answer.

As a parent, whether you are male or female, you have to make a decision based on your family history. I took my daughter who kept getting ear infections when she was a kid and one of the doctors said to me, “If you do not give her an asthma spray, and do not do this, that and the other, she will die within a week”. You don’t say that to a young mum, well, I was an old mum but she was only a little person.

Since I had asthma and my mother in law died of asthma and I’ve told you this before, that doctor didn’t take into account where I was coming from. I required him to look in my child’s ear and give me some indication of what was going on so I could make an informed decision.

I, however, am not like Yasmin in Chelsea. You would – what would you have done in that situation?

Yasmin: I’m just wondering how much longer your programme is on air. Because I give hundreds of MMR vaccines and all the work that we do in general practice is probably being undone by your programme in 15 minutes and I think it’s very irresponsible.

JB: Why. [Indistinct]

Yasmin: It doesn’t seem to be based on any facts. I’m very sorry to hear that your child had autism but if you…

JB: My child. Yasmin – [not] my child – somebody else’s child had autism.

Yasmin: Somebody else’s child, I’m very sorry to hear that. But if they read the Wakefield study in the Lancet in 1998, Dr Wakefield actually said that he didn’t prove an association between MMR and…

JB: Well he wasn’t really allowed to have his say, was he, Yasmin. He was kinda…

Yasmin: I think he was. I think he said it recently in court.

JB: But you’re not…

Yasmin: I think he’s being tried for medical negligence. I think that your programme is extremely irresponsible. You’re talking…

JB: Ah, let me just ask this…Let me ask you this before you go on with that.

How, if you are so certain that your MMR jab is correct, how can 15 minutes on LBC 97.3 rock what people are thinking?

TIMESTAMP 41:00

Yasmin: Well, you’d be surprised. And at the moment we are expecting a measles epidemic and it’s because of people like Ken Livingstone and people like yourself.

You talk about young mothers who have a very difficult decision to make and, I agree, they do, and I spend a lot of time talking to them. But people like you don’t really make it any easier for them.

And you were just talking about somebody with an ear infection. I’ve been talking to somebody I know who had a child who woke up with the contents of their ear on the pillow and that was down to the rubella virus.

So you really need to think about what you’re doing here and why you’re doing it.

JB: Well, you see, I could argue, Yasmin, that you have to think about it, too. I’m allowed…

Yasmin: I do, every day.

JB: And so do I, as a parent, and that’s what I’m saying.

Yasmin: I’m a parent. And one of my children has had 3 doses of measles [sic. Possibly meant MMR] and there’s no problem with it. You could have a hundred doses of measles [sic. Possibly meant MMR] and it would do nothing.

[Yasmin and JB talk over each other]

JB: But why give them the vaccine if they get the measles? I never can understand that.

Yasmin: We don’t give vaccines to children who have had measles. They need a combined vaccine of measles, mumps and rubella.

TIMESTAMP 42:00

If they have one dose the studies show that they possibly need to be revaccinated within a couple of years to make sure that that protection carries on for life.

JB: Do you not think, though, that as a parent, I am allowed to make a decision about what I put in my kid’s body?

Yasmin: Yes. And do you not think that a parent whose child has cancer and is having chemotherapy and has a much lower resistance to things like measles, mumps and rubella, has a right for their child to go to normal Primary…

JB: Absolutely, absolutely.

Yasmin: A normal Primary School. But because there may be one child in the class, such as yours, who is lucky to have the immunity, that child might get measles, mumps or rubella and die.

JB: Yasmin, my daughter did not have decent immunity which is exactly why I did not have her inoculated.

Yasmin: We don’t. We wait until your child is well and fit enough to give the MMR.

JB: But I don’t want my child to be fiddled with with all sorts of stuff that’s in a vaccine. Now why…

[JB and Yasmin talk over each other]

Let me finish.

TIMESTAMP 43:00

Yasmin: Could you tell me what’s in the vaccine? What do you think is in the vaccine?

JB: No, I can’t.

Yasmin: Then how can you make a decision for your child? You’re taking about parents having to make decisions for the child but if you go into any secondary school, which I have done, we’ve been asked to vaccinate kids against MMR, they all say they want it.

If you’re deny immunisation then you’re denying health to your child and other children.

JB: No, no, no. My child is absolutely strong and healthy in many ways…

Yasmin: Then you’re one of the lucky ones aren’t you? If your kid had chemotherapy…

JB: Listen, listen, listen. Yasmin will you stop…Stop.

Yasmin: You’d want your child to be protected, wouldn’t you?

JB: Stop being so dramatic about it. If you

[JB and Yasmin talk over each other.]

Yasmin: You should think about what you’re doing in this programme. You’re doing a lot of damage. A lot of damage.

JB: Well, maybe. I don’t think so.

Yasmin: You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can’t even tell me what’s in an MMR vaccine so you shouldn’t be talking about it.

JB: Well, I can get it…Shall I get it off the internet, Yasmin?

Yasmin: Yeah, get it off the internet, from a reliable source, the such as the Department of Health

JB: Really?

Yasmin: and then I might listen to you, yeah.

JB: The Department of Health frightens people.

Thanks, Yasmin, for your call.

I think it’s quite interesting. When I was told I had a high blood sugar, I was told in that room I had diabetes. I don’t have diabetes, I have high blood sugar. My blood sugar’s normal now but they frightened me. Which is what people like Yasmin does.

This is LBC 97.3.

Blogs covering the LBC MMR story:

This list is adapted from the indefatigable and amazing Holfordwatch who have a regularly updating post here:

holfordwatch.info/2009/02/05/jeni-barnett-lbc-radio-mmr-vaccine/

The list is immense, and will probably grow more.

Frank Swain of Science Punk: Jeni Barnett MMR show – full transcript

Martin of The Lay Scientist: The Barnett Transcript: Part 2 – The homeopath’s phone call. Martin has made some comments of his own.

Podblack of Podblack Cat: Jeni Barnett On LBC 97.3FM UK Radio – Vs John From Epsom

Dr Rachael Dunlop of Sceptics’ Book: Jeni Barnett talks to Amanda, mother of 8. This section covers ~ 19 to 24 mins of the Jeni Barnett MMR segment. To see the preceding section head to podblack.com. For the full audio, head to my YouTube channel.

Quackometer has part 5: Jeni Barnett MMR Rant Transcript with “Dr Rob”

We, at HolfordWatch are hosting Part 6: Jeni Barnett and the Phone Call with Yasmin on the LBC MMR Segment

Update 4: several blogs are now publicising the legal chill and providing their own take on the matter and related issues.

Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc: Jeni Barnett and LBC start the clean-up operation

Frank Swain of Science Punk: LBC sic lawyers on Ben Goldacre over criticism of MMR show

SJ Cockell of Fuzzier Logic: MMR scaremongerer sicks the legal dogs on Ben Goldacre

Podblack of Podblack Cat: Ben Goldacre – Will Not, Should Not, Be Silenced On Jeni Barnett.

jdc of jdc325: MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh.

Political Scientist: URGENT: The Joy of Law

Martin of The Lay Scientist: Jeni Barnett on MMR – The Complete Show.

Jason Brown of A Drunken Madman: More medical mendacity.

ES Armstrong of Scattergum: Jeni Barnett is an idiot.

Dr*T of Thinking is Dangerous: Is there a proper media lawyer in the house? Your country needs YOU.

Teek of consider, evaluate, act: Goldacre threatened with legal action over criticism of anti-MMR radio broadcast – UPDATED

Common Sense has updated the Measles graph for England and Wales.

Dr Rachie of The Sceptics’ Book: What are LBC and Jeni Barnett afraid of?

Press Gazette: LBC in legal warning to Ben Goldacre over MMR blog post

Anthony Cox of Black Triangle: MMR and legal threats and The Today Programme’s irresponsible MMR interview

Quackometer: Jeni Barnett and Irresponsible Broadcasting

MacSpider of Spider Comment: Jeni Barnett, LBC, stupidity and threats

Londonist: MMR, For Some Reason, Still Controversial

Michael Grayer of Non-Toxic: Many Many Rants… and not much evidence.

Julie Oakley of Julie’s Pictures: Ben Goldacre – my hero! – an excellent outline drawing.

Cory Doctorow: SCIENTIST WHO CRITICISED DJ FOR VACCINATION SCARE TALK GETS COPYRIGHT THREAT and Boing Boing: Scientist who criticised DJ on LBC radio for vaccination scare talk get copyright threat

Tweet from Phil Plait.

On Medica mentions Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett: Highest number of measles cases in 2008

Tony Hatfield of Retired Ramblings: Ben Goldacre,Jeni Barnett, MMR and LBC’s Heavy Legal Hand..!

Adam Bowie of The Ballad of Adam Bowie: Ben Goldacre and LBC

Media Watch: Bad Science v. Bad Lawyers

DavBlog: The “Controversy” That Won’t Die

The Plummet Onions: Extremely bad science

Plashing Vole: parataxis: Jeni Barnett is an ill-informed loon and a danger to the public

No Rock and Roll Fun: Global radio menaces Ben Goldacre

Jacob Aron of Just A Theory: Ben Goldacre vs. Jeni Barnett: legal troubles over MMR scaremongering

Matt Wardman of The Wardman Wire: Ben Goldacre of Bad Science Threatened by Lawyers for LBC and Jeni Barnett

Judith Townsend of Journalism.co.uk: Goldacre on the ‘intellectual property absolutists’ – LBC’s legal warning

Tom Reynolds of Random Acts of Reality: Bad Lawyering

PZ Myers of Pharyngula: Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett on LBC Radio

Bigger Pills: KO’d with a triple jab

Random Dumber Generator: Radio Station Fights Criticism With Copyright Claim

Orac: Help Ben Goldacre out…he’s being sued again (We hope not, it depends on the nuance behind a takedown letter with “reserved rights”.)

Phil Plait at Discover: UK in trouble? Measles, antivax garbage on the rise

Streisand is calling department at TechDirt: Radio Station Uses Copyright Claim To Try To Silence Bad Science Critic; Guess What Happens?

Nice shout-out by Greg of Lstrblg: The price we pay for the anti-vac movement

Miss Prism of a Somewhat Old But Capacious Handbag: Today’s irresponsible tripe courtesy of Jeni Barnett

Texturbation has some strong views

Gareth Klose has some thoughtful questions: Is scientific tear-down fair use?

Electric Halibut wants to know: isn’t MMR scaremongering all a bit 2007? Quite.

Matt Dalby of Santiago’s Dead Wasp: legal bullying of bad science blog

Neil D of Harry’s Place: Ben Goldacre receives legal warning

Witch Doctor asks: Jeni Who?

Paul Flynn asks: Spot the Ignoramus?

Bad Science Meets Bad Broadcasting

Solveda at Musings of a Phenomenologist: When MMR attacks (or LBC and Jeni Barnett, what were you thinking?)

The Skeptic’s Field Guide: Help Ben Goldacre Beat Off This Artifice

Martial Arts Planet Forum: MMR, Jeni Barnett and Bad Science

Jon Bounds of The Bounder: Bad Science Needs Help or At Least Link Love

Verbal Gas Pedal of A Much More Exotic: The dangerous ignorance of Jeni Barnett harms children

Gary Marshall of Big Mouth Strikes Again: BadScience.net in MMR quack attack

Porcospino: Talk radio is bad for your health

The Jobbing Doctor: The Ben Goldacre Fan Club

Sceptics’ Book reproduces a comment left by Ben Goldacre on Jeni Barnett’s blog: What are LBC Radio and Jeni Barnett Afraid Of? and Damage Control for LBC’s Jeni Barnett’s MMR Rant Backfires Globally and on a Massive Scale

Infectious Diseases Dr Verity of Verity at Work: Alarm Bells, Lassa, Snow and the End of the MMR Scare

Quercus: MMR: As the actress said to the doctor…

Law Librarians mentions the kerfuffle: While I’m Here

Chris Ward of Terroir: Jeni Barnett Is An Idiot

Karl Haro von Mogel of The Inoculated Mind: Go Download This

Dr Grumble reveals why he will not agree to record an item for LBC radio again: LBC sharks

Daniel Onions of Phoebus Gins (what is not to love about those names) wonders if LBC are trying to deliberately stir this up: Jeni Barnett and Bad Science

Two Nil Blank Blank 20__ swears to Beelzebub that this kerfuffle has become London’s Biggest Conversation

Mick of Bright Reason warns that you may lose IQ points if you choose to listen to the notorious MMR segment: Badscience, Jeni Barnett woo-woo and the Streisand Effect

John Connell of John Connell – The Blog: Send in the lawyers. John has listened to the broadcast. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he reports:

Fish n Chimps of CMM News: Shock as Z-list Celeb Talks Out of Wrong Orifice

Jonathan of No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands: Jeni Barnett and MMR.

Cubik’s Rube unusually has: A blog post on a Friday.

Masks of Eris is finding that: World Sucks.

Professor David Colquhoun of dcscience: Jeni Barnett and LBC: dangers to public health.

Commonplace Book offers a lively and a propos quotation from Tim Minchin: Jeni Thick-ett.

John at Sore Eyes: LBC are bullies, pass it on

Eastwood DC of Dread Tomato Addiction (you may want to read Mark Clifton’s 1958 essay if you would like to understand the name) suggests: The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers

Skepacabra notes the latest heavy-handed legal reprimand: Ben Goldacre is Being…

Andres Guadamuz of Techno Llama offers a thoughtful and interesting legal opinion that is well-worth reading in full: Bad Science meets bad copyright.

Gimpy has his own opinions on where some of the blame for Jeni Barnett’s remarkable antivax rhetoric comes from: Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering – the role of homeopathy.

Anthony Cox of Black Triangle has done some follow-up: Transcripts of Jeni Barnett on MMR on LBC Radio and he tells us that the rumours of a Conspiracy? have already started.

Demotivated posters now offer a little something in the style of despair.com: Jeni Barnett and Measles Was Never That Bad Anyway. A rather sadder version of what is fast becoming the Jeni Barnett: Measles was never that bad anyway meme.

David of Cloud Soup ponders on a peculiarly british myth of MMR and autism: Jeni Barnett, MMR and Bad Science

Martin Stabe makes a glancing reference to the kerfuffle and states that it is to Jeni Barnett’s credit that she defended herself and is allowing comments that disagree with her: Jeni Barnett: MMR and Me

Electric Halibut has now perused various transcripts of the infamous Jeni Barnett segment and come to the conclusion: there’s a fine line between “finely tuned animal” and “weird”

Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc implores parents to get their children immunised: Jeni Barnett, MMR, Measles and Bad Science. Will she accept the challenge?

Chris Gerhard of The Dot in …—… muses:You can’t put it back in the box.

JHQ of Letting Off Steam has put up a response to the transcription of Jeni Barnett’s phone exchange with Yasmin: Jeni Barnett, Antivaxxer.

Dr Petra has produced a very thoughtful piece that ranges across the issues of professionals working with people in media to explain their work and the actual dynamics of some of the exchanges in Jeni Barnett’s LBC Radio MMR segment: Ever wondered why health professionals don’t want to work with the media and the public are misinformed on medical issues?

The Jobbing Doctor has produced British Medical Blogs 18

The World Is a Lesson In Perspective urges people to donate by PayPal to Ben Goldacre (don’t, I don’t need money, I need ideas).

If you like the London Bus Generator: Raging across the blogosphere.

Phil Chamberlain of Taking Out the Trash writes: On dishing it out and taking it.

There is, of course, a delightful Facebook Group: Defend Ben Goldacre from LBC

DBH of The Great DBH Rant has gone through the transcripts and concluded: Jeni Barnett Anti-Vaccination Drivel – Irresponsibility at its best.

DBH posts a follow-up asking that: The MMR and Autism Link Should Be Binned for Good Now

Richard Brennan refers to the dispute in his newsjiffy: Dr Ben Goldacre accused of copyright infringement by LBC 97.3 FM following MMR show blog posting.

Paul Flynn has had an opportunity to explore the transcripts and audio further since his last posting and he is taken aback: New nuke : old calamity.

Peter Groves of IPso Jure: IP news round up.

Simon HB of No Rock and Roll Fun: Global Radio: Jeni Barnett Defends Her Position.

Guido of Guido Fawkes is pleased that: LBC Get Wiki Leaked.

The Milligan comments on parts of the transcripts: Jeni Barnett Spouting Pure, Unadulterated Ignorance About the MMR Vaccine.

jdc of jdc325 offers a comprehensive MMR Round-Up that ends with rather a dispiriting summary of the state of MMR and vaccination discussion amongst self-styled health gurus and in mainstream media.

The Milligan has returned to the corpus delicti and picks through the nasty mess: Jeni Barnett and her anti-vaccination drivel.

Bankrupt Artist remarks that: Jeni Has A Blog and Andrew Wakefield Says The Thing That Is Not.

Robert Saunders of Flies and Bikes: Thank you, Andrew Wakefield.

Dr Grumble uses this incident to talk about generational differences in truth-seeking: Journalists.

AP Gaylard of A Canna’ Change the Laws of Physics has an outstanding discussion of the notion of informed consent: Ignorant refusal.

Mike Stanton of Action for Autism: Jeni Barnett, Bad Science and MMR

Unity of the Ministry of Truth provides some pithy coverage of the issue, slightly incredulous that Jeni Barnett and the LBC lawyers seem to be ignorant of the Streisand Effect: Jeni Barnett – Pig Ignorant and Proud.

JQH is more than a little exasperated to realise that despite all of the attempts to improve her knowledge base: Jeni Barnett Does Not Get It.

Dr Rita Pal of NHS Exposed has a challenge: Come On Jeni Barnett, Get Out of Your Duvet And Answer Your Critics.

Andy of Thinking Is Real finds some small amusement from: Ben Goldacre in MMR Law Suit.

RZ at Ward 87: Jeni Barnett – The Ostrich.

Sean the Blogonaut tells: A Tale of Two Jennys.

Hannah King of Just a Whisper in the Wind could scarcely believe her ears: Jeni Barnett on MMR.

Psychodiva is a nurse and deplores Jeni Barnett’s: Scaremongering in the media.

Grumpy RN has a round-up: The NHS.

Scots Law Student asks: Jeni Barnett on MMR – is copyright law right for this case?

Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy: Ben Goldacre legally threatened by LBC.

Skeptical Dog wonders if cluelessness is a common thread: What Is It With Jeni and Jenny?

Jonathan M Gitlin of Ars Technica notes: Bad Science columnist attracts a lawsuit threat.

The Great Simpleton calls upon his readers to: Save the Bad Science 1.

Kendrick Curtis of Lieutenant H mentions the story: “Bad Science” columnist Ben Goldacre and LBC’s Jeni Barnett and highlights the juxtaposition of this kerfuffle with Brian Deer’s latest articles about Andrew Wakefield. Johat of Moansters Incorporated invites readers to: Immunise yourself against Bad Science.

Autism News Beat offers some nice coverage and light snarking: Stalk Radio.

Hopi Sen of A blog from the back room mentions the issue pithily: Big serious thoughts: MMR.

Lee of Lee’s Blog is riled: My mite against Jeni Barnett.

Carl Morris of Native HQ identifies: LBC Radio vs. Ben Goldacre (A Perfect Storm of Bad Science).

Autism News Beat offers a shorthand version of Jeni Barnett’s attempt at self-justification: Jeni Barnett’s mea culpa.

The Milligan is also rather pleased to discover that the internet has a startling memory: Jeni Barnett – aka The LBC Idiot – No Debate Here.

Danni of The Great DBH Rant is likewise underwhelmed at this latest strategic blunder: Jeni Barnett Has Removed All Comments To Her Blogposts Concerning The MMR Drivel And The Aftermath.

The lovely Stephen Fry has sent out a Twitter to his 8 billion followers, and left a comment on my blog. I mean, seriously, this man wakes me up every morning.

The fatuity of the Jeni Barnett woman’s manner – her blend of self-righteousness and stupidity, her simply quite staggering inability to grasp, pursue or appreciate a sequence of logical steps – all these are signature characteristics of Britain these days. The lamentable truth is that most of the population wouldn’t really understand why we get so angry at this assault on reason, logic and sense. But we have to keep hammering away at these people and their superstitious inanities. We have to. Well done you and well done all you supporting. I’ve tweeted this site to my followers. I hope they all do their best to support you. Publish and be damned. We’ll fight them and fight them and fight them in the name of empricism, reason, double blind random testing and all that matter.
Love
Stephen xxx
twitter.com/stephenfry

I think LBC and Jeni should issue a clear apology for the show, prominently and in the same slot. I think they should make some public acknowledgement of the harm that can come from such irresponsible broadcasting, and give a clear undertaking that Jeni will not broadcast on the topic again, or any medical stories, without getting a basic understanding of the issues. I know that they won’t, but that’s what I think they should do, and I think they should release this clip freely so that we can all understand and discuss the anti-vaccination, anti-reason movement better, and try to prevent them from doing any more harm. That is what the clip is needed for, I think it is only fair that we should be able to have this discussion, and they should be keen to facilitate it. I think they misjudged this situation, and they could very easily set it right.

I think, in all honesty, that these people need to grow some insight.

image

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Manners:

I am incredibly grateful to Positive Internet who host this blog for free: they have been amazing, with the on-call engineers working in the middle of the night to get everything back online when it became clear we could no longer cope with the traffic. They even fixed my cackhanded wordpress install. If you make the corporate decisions in your workplace then you should absolutely use them, I’ve genuinely never seen anything like it. I don’t need money for legal costs or anything so no donations please, unless you want to subsidise sellotape to fix the laptop or help me get admin/research assistance.

Oh and for a day or so comments will take a while to appear because the page can only rebuild itself occasionally when the traffic is so high.

Update: This activism suggestion from a reader

Might it be worth suggesting via your blog that everyone sends a letter to the members of the board of global radio: www.thisisglobal.com/radio/contact-us/

As well as everything you’ve said about the potential damage to public health caused by Jeni’s broadcast, the letter could suggest something along the lines that it undermines their support of children’s charities: www.thisisglobal.com/charities/

And perhaps suggest to them that they make donation to a relevant charity. e.g.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense-National_Deafblind_and_Rubella_Association


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

155 Responses



  1. aphasia said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for the detailed update. Good on you and all the other bloggers. Keep up the good work.

  2. JQH said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Yes. Good stuff.

    Re the proposed activism, I am of the view that ringing her show to demand a retraction could be perceived as hounding her. She will certainly spin it that way, judging by the way she spun her conversation with Yasmin.

    I’m glad to read that Yasmin is persuing her own complaint, especially after the inaccurate description of her that appeared on JB’s blog.

    Oh btw – thanks for the namecheck but its JQH not JHQ. Glad to see there’s been so much coverasge. If Jeni Barnett wanted a debate, she’s certainly got one.

  3. danielrendall said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I’m not convinced the ‘civil disobedience’ idea is a good one. From my position as a lurker on various blogs, my perception is that scientists are usually fairly reasonable, whereas the the anti-science mob tend to sound rather agitated. Yet still they complain of persecution at the hands of the scientists. I suspect that a campaign of the kind you outline would merely reinforce the siege mentality these people seem to have.

    What would be useful (that is, it would be useful to me IMHO since I am a bear of very little brain and therefore potentially useful to other similar bears) would be something akin to the Index of Creationist Claims (www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html), but debunking with all the various anti-vax claims and statistics. For example, the chap from whale.to asserted in a now-extinct post on Jeni’s site:

    “It is so easy to prove all vaccination is useless (and dangerous, just look at smallpox vaccination) and that MMR is killing way more kids than measles would be doing with or without vaccination (deaths declined by 99.4% before vaccination, so it didn’t do anything, end of story)”

    Looking at the graphs posted above, I am wonderfully intrigued to know where his 99.4% figure comes from (and, indeed his assertion about MMR). I will give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that he has, in his mind, a set of facts and a way of connecting them to arrive at these conclusions. In my ideal world, there’d be somewhere I could go to understand his reasoning or lack thereof. As it is, I fear I shall have to remain mystified (I refuse to go to whale.to in an attempt to unravel it, as I fear that madness may lie in that direction).

    I’m aware that much excellent work has been done by bloggers to refute various claims and accusations. I suppose I’m suggesting that it would be good to have it all clearly laid out in one place. Maybe such a thing already exists and my inexpert googling has failed to locate it. Any pointers would be appreciated!

  4. julie oakley said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Like you I’m in two minds about activism. I know that I dispensed with my deluded views on homeopathy after reading your blog, but I might have become extremely entrenched and defensive if I had felt I was being attacked. I think that in a face to face situation, eg commments on her blog or phoning in, courtesy (such as that shown by Yasmin) is imperative and I would be concerned if a concerted phone in would backfire.

    By the way, I did laugh at the way the LBC presented the current furore as this poor little sixty year old lady being the victim of vicious e-mails etc. Well I’m only ten years younger and I hope that when I’m sixty I won’t be pulling the frail old vulnerable lady card.

  5. lucifer said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Great to see the support this is getting :)

  6. artificialhabitat said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Email to MP sent, for all the good an EDM will actually do.

    You may be right about the perils of bombarding them with calls. These people usually suffer from an extreme persecution complex anyway, it’ll only add further fuel to their delusions.

    Still….. tempting

  7. SliderSteve said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I never tire of instances where people/companies have attempted to unjustly silence a critic only for the ‘act of attempted silencing’ to backfire so catastrophically and make them wish they had left well alone.

    Championing reason and a better public understanding of science is a a fight worth taking on. The more instances of Ben and other articulate people like him, bringing to the public’s attention issues like this, the more people/companies will be exposed.

    This exposure can only help improve the moral zeitgeist.

  8. kerledan said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Stephen Fry (above) expresses it so concisely yet eloquently: in a nutshell, the heart of the matter.

    “The fatuity of the Jeni Barnett woman’s manner – her blend of self-righteousness and stupidity, her simply quite staggering inability to grasp, pursue or appreciate a sequence of logical steps – all these are signature characteristics of Britain these days. The lamentable truth is that most of the population wouldn’t really understand why we get so angry at this assault on reason, logic and sense. But we have to keep hammering away at these people and their superstitious inanities. We have to…..”

    This man is a National Treasure.

  9. A full time unpaid carer said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I wrote this:
    Dear Willie Rennie,

    I am writing to ask you to sign the EDM formally posted tomorrow 11/2/09 as talked about by Dr Ben Goldacre on his blog “BadScience”.

    As you may know, this follows some highly irresponsible media coverage and reportage by broadcaster Jeni Barnett at the end of last week, but includes other high profile media personalities such as Ken Livingston and Carol Vorderman who ignore empirical scientific research and logical reasoning and in my opinion, will cause death and long term damage by more and more parents not taking the offer of MMR vaccine for their children and the concomitant rise in cases of mumps, measles and rubella. These “celebrities” carry a certain kudos and give a false reassurance that they know what they are talking about.

    I then copied the wording of the EDM.

    I hope this adds to the growing swell of people outraged by JB and her garbage.

  10. seenoevil said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I’m watching this with interest.
    Seems like a battle of the new ways vs. the old ways of media communication.

  11. El Pollo Diablo said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve also fired off an email to my MP (Edward Davey, Lib Dem for Kingston-o-T). Hopefully he’ll be signing this, too!

    Probably worth pointing out that there is “An audience with Jeni Barnett” in Croydon on the 26th March. Could be interesting, but it costs £14.50.

    More details here: www.uktw.co.uk/dl/page.php?page=details&id=L0830056681

  12. LucienSanchez said,

    February 10, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Excellent update Ben, thanks. This is my first comment on here, so I just thought I’d say thanks for entertaining me for the few days or so since John Crippen’s blog first directed me here.

    Section 1 of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code (link: tinyurl.com/ofcom1) is entitled ‘Protecting the Under-Eighteens’). Section 1.1 of this states:

    Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.

    I’m about to lodge a complaint to Ofcom regarding Barnett’s broadcast with specific regard to this point – the first point in the Broadcasting Code. As a paediatric SHO, I am witness to the harm that measles and mumps in particular can cause, and her ill-informed baiting cannot help the situation.

    I’d advise others to do the same. Weight of numbers worked in the Brand/Ross/Sachs saga; why not put them to good use for a damn good cause?

  13. SmartBlonde said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Agree with most of your points, but I feel the need to defend the UK legal system (someone has to!). I should point out first that I am not a lawyer, just a lowly library school student and aspiring law librarian. I do have some subject knowledge of law, and very good knowledge of copyright law (librarians have to – the consequences are worse for us than for lawyers if we get it wrong!), so I may be (slightly) qualified to comment here…

    You say that: “In medicine we have protocols: we try to lay out very clearly and simply how something works, what the likely outcomes are, the best moves, and so on. I don’t see why this would be difficult in law”. It is so difficult in law precisely because of the way our legal system has evolved. In law, there is no clear-cut, right-or-wrong answer to anything. This is what the law students I have worked with find the most difficult to come to terms with. It needs to be this way because every case is different. The UK operates a common law system – meaning, in effect, that two cases where the material facts are the same should have the same outcome. However, the key phrase here is “material facts”. The lawyer’s job is to work out what is relevant and what isn’t. This is how the law works, and how it should work. I’m not saying that some lawyers don’t take advantage of that, but that isn’t entirely what it’s about. Personally, having done some legal research myself, I believe that lawyers get paid so much because no-one would do it if they didn’t. Seriously, it’s unbelievably tedious.

    Regarding copyright law specifically – there I agree with you that the letter of the law is unhelpfully vague. The CDPA allows for some copying under “fair dealing” – although fair dealing is not an exception per se, but a possible defence – but does not define what constitutes fair dealing. In general, if something is for non-commercial use or private study, or review/criticism (as in your own case), then it should count as fair dealing. However, this may not apply if you have copied a “substantial portion” (this is also left unhelpfully vague – it could mean in terms of the volume of material you’ve reproduced, or could be just a single paragraph, etc. that happened to contain the main point of the argument). In theory, this was left vague so that it could be decided on a case-by-case basis, to maintain a balance between the rights of the consumers and the rights of the authors. In practice, there is currently a heavy bias towards the rights holders. Copyright law is lagging way behind the current situation (how do you even enforce copyright on the Internet??), and is in need of a massive overhaul, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    Ok, taking my librarian hat off now! Just wanted to add that I agree with some of the above posters that bombarding LBC with phone calls is a bad idea – that doesn’t just look like bullying, it is bullying. This woman already has a persecution complex, don’t justify it. I thought that some of the comments on her blog (at least, the archived version) were heading towards that area – posting a rational argument is fine; posting nothing more than “you’re an idiot”, or words to that effect, is petty.

  14. seenoevil said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    @ SmartBlonde
    “posting a rational argument is fine; posting nothing more than “you’re an idiot”, or words to that effect, is petty.”

    Hear hear. iirc something Dr G has emphasised in the past in the forums. Attack the argument, not the person.

  15. penglish said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Ah, we can comment again… (I tried before but I think the server was overloaded, so I posted at www.facebook.com/groups.php?ref=sb#/pages/Ben-Goldacre-Bad-Science/26030473910?ref=ts

    “We’ve had a mumps outbreak in 2005, and now measles is on the rise.”

    The reason for the mumps outbreak was different. (The poor uptake of MMR is a very serious concern; but it’s also important not to use arguments that aren’t valid.)

    There’s a cohort of people who’ve only had one mumps jab.

    Scientists at CDSC, the predecessor of Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections realised that we were on the verge of a measles epidemic, in the 90s. The reason for this is that we’d only been giving a single dose of MMR , which wasn’t sufficient. You need to have >90% of the popn to be immune to measles, and a single dose is only effective in 90-95% of people, so even with 100% uptake you can have outbreaks.

    To prevent the expected measles epidemic, they had a campaign in which pretty much the whole school population was given a second dose. But there wasn’t enough mumps vaccine available, so an MR (measles and rubella) jab was used instead of MMR. This cohort of people therefore only had a single dose of mumps-containing vaccine, and about 10% of those who only had one dose of mumps-containing vaccine remained susceptible to mumps. See:

    www.ganfyd.org/index.php?title=Herd_immunity
    www.ganfyd.org/index.php?title=Mumps

  16. Lord of Chaos said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    It’s amazing really how some people just don’t really how coming down heavy handed with the legal stuff can be a realy cack handed way of trying to win an argument.

    So depressing that there are people like her out there. And ever worse that people listen her.

    On an aside, i’ve read lots of stories and the mup and measles epidemics, but I haven’t seen anything about rubella? Come to think of it most of the anti-MMR lot focous on measles. What’s the deal?

  17. clobbered said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Ben says “This is no longer about MMR it is about an ill-informed media”. I think it is even worse than that – it is about a narcissistic culture where everybody thinks that their opinion is as good as everybody else’s and that *everything is opinion*.

    Once you reduce scientific fact to mere opinion (and I agree that the media has been instrumental in this tragic misconception), then why isn’t Jeni’s opinion as good as anybody else’s?

    This is why I don’t think a phone-in to LBC is a good idea. Just because 10,000 people ring in, it doesn’t make them right (though obviously they would be, in this case). What if some stupid “alternative” blog got 10,000 people to ring in and say doctors just want to kill babies? Would that make it right? It strikes me as completely unproductive.

    Thanks to people like Evan Harris, I think the point has been made. Let’s hope LBC has learned its lesson and moves on.

  18. plastictastic said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:02 am

    We all loved Stephen Fry, and now we love him even more.

    Email to local MP sent re: the EDM. Might not rockl the world, but ‘every little helps’.

    By the way – this may have been covered already in the comments elsewhere – but wrote a complaint to LBC using their on-line system, only to get a 404 error when I submitted – have they taken a damage-limitation screw-driver to their website perchance!? Mucky.

  19. The Biologista said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Remarkable just how badly Jeni and LBC screwed this up. It could have been just another Bad Science blog. Instead it’s everywhere!

  20. plastictastic said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:13 am

    @The Biologista, agreed – why won’t organisations like LBC engage in situations like this rather than wriggle and squirm into deeper doo doo – they make it so much harder for themsleves. Credibility can be salvaged.

  21. Gypsum Fantastic said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Is it me, or have the posts (as well as the comments) about this been removed from the blog this evening?

  22. plastictastic said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Yes, they’ve gone, presumably deliberately although I’m sure there’s some sort of computer malady story ready to be wheeled out.

    Somewhat superbly, all of the deleted posts are hosted here:

    www.quackometer.net/blog/2009/02/jeni-barnett-have-you-lost-something.html

    Hurrah! :-)

  23. pv said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Lord of Chaos said,
    February 10, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    So depressing that there are people like her out there. And ever worse that people listen her.

    Listening is one thing. Being persuaded or taken in by it is another. What I find so depressing is that so many people give so much more weight and credibility to words uttered by “celebrities” and ignorant hacks, than be people who’ve devoted their life’s work to understanding and whose job it is to know. The news media bears a huge responsibility in my view for blurring the lines between education and entertainment, fact and fiction; treating them with equal gravity. Health related news is a fine example, with it’s obsession with anecdote, opinionated celebrity “experts” and general dumbed down superficiality.
    They’d rather roll out Jenny McCarthy and devote column miles to her than, say, Simon Baron Cohen, because the public “identifies” with celebrities so much more than a dry medical doctor or professor. Celebs make more money for the media than does anyone who might be regarded as educated and informed.
    And we mustn’t forget that scientists are popularly portrayed and seen as the bad guys. Mums with sick children are always the good guy underdogs.

  24. fontwell said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I agree with previous posts in thinking that a mass phone attack would be counter productive. It gives LBC/Jeni the ammunition for ad hominem attacks, which is their idea of a valid way to win an argument. We need to win by evidence and reason (and publicity), and while a tactic like that might be briefly very satisfying for us, I don’t think it will further our cause at all.

    I am greatly encouraged to see what a response the broadcast has now gathered and have urged my MP to support the EDM.

    Is it really true that Ken Livingstone is an anti-vaccer? I expected better of him.

  25. Philippa said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:32 am

    I’m completely appalled. Have just listened to this shrew and bombastic know-nothing and am stunned.

    All that rubbish about ‘my kids didn’t get measles (and its ruebella ?!) or mumps…

    Doesn’t she realise that it’s because of herd vaccination levels that her kids didn’t get it and that it’s about group responsibility???

    Honestly, she deserves prosecuting for crimes against public health.

  26. matthewoconnor said,

    February 11, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Nice work, Dr. Goldacre. And Yay! Alice in her bib!

  27. liquidcow said,

    February 11, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Got to agree that the phoning-in thing is a really bad idea, it probably does amount to bullying as someone said above, and it makes people on this side of the argument look arrogant and petty, which undermines the argument in the eyes of people yet to be convinced.

    I second the above poster who said that this whole thing is indicative of a horrible trend that has been emerging for years now where opinions are made sacred, regardless of whose they are and what they are based on, and even when they are clearly and demonstrably wrong. For some reason it’s become wrong not to ‘respect’ someone’s opinion; in other words to disagree with them, or to know that they are wrong, and attempt to persuade them otherwise.

  28. gadgeezer said,

    February 11, 2009 at 1:57 am

    #16 Lord of Chaos.

    On an aside, i’ve read lots of stories and the mup and measles epidemics, but I haven’t seen anything about rubella? Come to think of it most of the anti-MMR lot focous on measles. What’s the deal?

    On the issue of MMR safety and why single jabs are not advisable which also covers rubella (via Holfordwatch and with permission).
    For readers concerned about the safety of MMR, AP Gaylard has usefully produced a table of what Dr Paul Offit styles as “Studies exonerating MMR”, drawn from Offit’s book, Autism’s False Prophets (Gaylard has thoughtfully provided the full references and links to online content, where available.)
    As for the issue of single jabs, major charities have reviewed this issue and they have come to a very different conclusion. I would urge interested readers to download and study the deaf-blind charity Sense Position Statement on the issue of MMR because it also responds to the calls for single jabs as well as detailing the difference that MMR has made to the incidence of congenital rubella syndrome.

    An immunisation strategy can only ever be effective if there is mass uptake, meaning that choice between single vaccines and MMR cannot be part of an effective vaccination programme. One of the difficulties with MMR uptake is that, while the prevalence of measles, mumps and rubella in the UK is low, the incentive to vaccinate can appear less. From the perspective of an individual parent, the risk of their child contracting an infectious disease can seem small compared with the risk of possible (or perceived) adverse reactions to immunisation. However, this is only true if vaccination levels remain high. It is actually the counter-argument to this view that is the rationale for vaccination programmes – that the risk of vaccine damage is extremely low compared with the risk of the ill-effects of contracting the disease.
    At the same time, low uptake of rubella vaccination could actually have worse consequences than no uptake. If there were no vaccination against rubella, then most people would catch rubella in childhood and would subsequently be immune. A low uptake of vaccination would mean that the virus would still be able to circulate, but that fewer children would become immune in childhood. Outbreaks of rubella would be less common than the epidemics that would occur with no vaccination, and so a cohort of unvaccinated and un-immunised children would increase each year and get older, with the burden of the disease shifting to those who are most at risk. Thus the impact of an outbreak in terms of congenital rubella syndrome births could be greater.
    For MMR vaccination to be effective, uptake needs to be above 95%: this is why boys as well as girls need to be vaccinated. From 1970 to 1988, schoolgirls were vaccinated against rubella, and this did have some success in reducing the number of rubella births. However, the real breakthrough came in 1988 when MMR was introduced for all children. This reduced rubella births by a further 90% – there were 447 congenital rubella births between 1971 and 1980 and 38 between 1991 and 2000…
    Thanks to vaccination, rubella damage is now rare. However, this means that many people do not realise how dangerous rubella can be. In the United States, people from the Amish community have exercised their right for their children not to be immunised against rubella. As a result, in 1995, one baby in 50 born to Amish parents was born severely rubella damaged…
    It has been be argued that even if the Government believes MMR to be safe, they should provide single vaccines as an alternative because then more children would be vaccinated. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support the suggestion that allowing single vaccines would lead to a greater uptake of MMR, and a significant amount of evidence to show that it would have the opposite effect. Single vaccines would be less effective than MMR and there is no evidence that they would be safer. Sense believes that it is unethical to promote six invasive procedures instead of two without sound scientific support, and when there is evidence that such a strategy would have negative effects. [They then give their reasons and some very good, supportive figures.]…
    parents may opt not to vaccinate their children, particularly their sons, against rubella. This would lead to increased risk to pregnant women. Unvaccinated boys can catch rubella and go on to infect pregnant women, including their own mothers. This is exactly what happened before MMR was introduced….
    [Reprise of what happened the last time single vaccines were offered because of a (groundless) vaccine scare.] In the 1970s, following a decrease in uptake of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine, single vaccines for pertussis (whooping cough) were offered, with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines given separately. What happened was that over half of parents chose to vaccinate their children without the pertussis component. Coverage fell from 80% to 30%, there were three epidemics of pertussis, thousands of hospital admissions and around a hundred deaths. It took nearly fifteen years for vaccine uptake levels to recover…
    [Sense list of recommendations] The Government should continue to offer MMR and should not make single vaccines available as an alternative.

  29. James H said,

    February 11, 2009 at 2:30 am

    I think Simon Singh is correct. We could discuss the benefits (and successes) of organised protest in a democracy, but those of us without a broadcasting platform get precious little chance to protest against issues we consider to be of moral importance. Not to do so would be dull passivity bordering on a sin of omission.

    I certainly don’t think we should coordinate an ad hominem attack on Jeni, this would be bullying and I am not in favour of persecuting the ill-educated. I think she is intelligent enough (if not educated enough) to grasp the moral issue that kicked this off in the first place: ought wealthy companies be able to stifle debate and threaten Doctors by flexing legal muscle and resorting to “legal chill” tactics? There are over a thousand members of the group “Defend Ben Goldacre from LBC” (1,408 at last count) and many would happily make a call between 1pm and 4pm on a weekday, not to tell her she’s an idiot, but to ask her if she thinks threatening legal action was the right thing to do. I started the group and thus can message them all with one click, I am sorely tempted to do so. I really do think Jeni should be kept in mind, she is human and a spew of hate calls would be morally wrong. Nevertheless, our inclinations to protest should not be stifled by an insipid stiff upper-lip national trait. Such timidity is slightly pathetic and LBC should not be spared such a tactic.

  30. rathgild said,

    February 11, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Just a quick note to let you know I’ve shared your blog and the MMR story on my Facebook account (over 300 friends) so hopefully this will start propagating there as well. Maybe the weight of public opinion will make this stupidly, irresponsible woman see sense. My text with the link is as follows:

    Jeni Barnett, a broadcaster of little repute and even less medical knowledge, seems to think that she has all the answers when it comes to immunisation. As a result she devoted an entire show to the evils of MMR vaccination. She is (irresponsibly in my opinion) trying to persuade listeners in the LBC broadcasting area that the vaccine is dangerous – despite all the studies that prove it is safe. She advocates Dr Andrew Wakefield’s discredited findings as being fact even though the UK General Medical Council had charged Wakefield with serious professional misconduct, including dishonesty in relation to this controversial research (10 of the 13 co-authors withdrew their names from the paper). The result is that inoculation uptake is now less than 80%, well below the herd immunity level; measles cases have increased by 2300% since 1998; two children have already died, and a measles epidemic is on the horizon.

  31. nipsey said,

    February 11, 2009 at 3:37 am

    actually billy bragg likes to protect his own IP just a little too much for my tastes, so i think he would be on the opposite side of this from you

  32. synchronicity said,

    February 11, 2009 at 4:29 am

    This whole thing looks an awful lot like the Tom Cruise Scientology fair use case when his rants were put up on youtube a while back; when they protested, it became newsworthy, and the contested footage was no longer covered under copyright laws. Once again, the internets win, and free speech endures!

  33. madarab said,

    February 11, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Keith Olbermann of Countdown just named Wakefield the ‘Worst person in the world’. That is a big deal here in the US.

    www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/

  34. Lizzie76 said,

    February 11, 2009 at 8:09 am

    A post in agreement (in part) with SmartBlonde. In law, people also “try to lay out very clearly and simply how something works”- that’s the aim of legislation, which is always drafted in as simple a way as possible. The wording of the “fair dealing” provisions in the legislation governing copyright is actually pretty straightforward. The uncertainty (which I appreciate is frustrating) only arises because the law has been drafted to address the substance of what’s being considered rather than the form. Hence it’s not possible to say that a 44 minute audio clip is too long to be allowed as fair dealing or that a 4 minute clip would be ok. There’s no definite rule of thumb because it’s a question of the facts in each particular case, and the law needs to be flexible enough to be applied in a common sense way. The uncertainty is an unfortunate consequence of this necessary flexibility. In fact, I’ll go further than SmartBlonde- I don’t think that lack of a definition of a “substantial part” is unhelpfully vague- it’s deliverately undefined to allow flexibility.

    Obviously in this particular case it’s clear to any sensible person (and would, IMO, have been very clear to a judge) that LBC were attempting to use copyright law in an utterly disingenuous and heavy-handed way in order to stifle debate- that’s not what copyright law is about and I personally don’t think they would have got far in court. However, I wanted to make the point that the vast majority of lawyers and judges are doing their best to make the law understandable and accessible to everyone. Where answers aren’t clear, it’s usually because the questions are complicated. The main issue, as I see it, is not with how laws are drafted but with the unavailability of legal aid in civil matters; this definitely gives an unfair advantage to whoever has the deeper pockets.

    I can certainly see that dealing with LBC’s lawyers would give a poor impression of the profession. However, I think it’s extremely unfair to suggest that uncertainty in the law exists because it’s in lawyers’ interests that it does. Some lawyers obfuscate and exploit uncertainty, just as some doctors twist data to support their pet theories; the vast majority in both professions are honest and do their best to help laymen navigate what is necessarily a technical world.

    Would guidelines help? I’m not sure- copyright law governs rights in IP between individuals, not between the individual and the State, and while the law is created by Parliament it is applied by the Judiciary. For the Government to pop up with a set of guidelines might actually be rather unhelpful, as individuals would not be able to rely on them (the legislation is what is applied in court, not anything else). Government guidelines would effectively be no more than a random third party’s gloss of the law. If changes are needed, they need to be in the law itself, and in this I agree with SB that copyright law is hopelessly out-of-date.

  35. jtjbooth said,

    February 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Hi Ben

    I’ve followed (well lurked on) your blog for a long while now; I’ve admired your stance over so many issues but I felt I just wanted to add my small word of support over the ongoing debate regarding LBC and Jeni Barnett.

    I’m a GP with an interest in child health, and I’ve been plugging away at the vaccine message since I’ve started work in Primary Care. Locally, we have a pretty high take-up on MMR – thanks largely to a recently retired and somewhat evangelical local paediatrician – but I’m still astonished at the level of resistance parents still display. I found myself going over the arguments again just this morning, in fact.

    After sanitation, I can’t think of a single public health measure that has saved more lives than vaccination; I think it’s a national (no, international) scandal that these wonderful interventions have become discredited and that presenters such as Ms Barnett can perpetuate the pernicious myths about MMR with such little insight.

    Thank you for all you’ve done this week: the anxious parents I spoke to this morning were directed to look at badscience.net for a rational overview of the issues.

    regards

    James Booth

    PS My first child arrives in a few weeks: they’ll be sporting one of your bibs with pride!

  36. mikewhit said,

    February 11, 2009 at 9:44 am

    “Dr Ben Goldacre on his blog “BadScience” ” – don’t think Bad Science is a blog – as in, online personal journal – but they’ll know what is meant !

  37. CarlottaVance said,

    February 11, 2009 at 9:56 am

    If LBC/Jeni Barnett do not see fit to seek to undo the damage they did in her 45 minute segment, one option, which might get LBC’s attention, is to write, politely, to their advertisers.

    Many of these are responsible corporations who build their business on the basis of science – (I worked for one for 20 years) – and would not wish to be associated with this anti-MMR hysteria. I have only listened to the podcast – so don’t know who advertises on them, but, for example, I doubt the makers of Pampers (P&G) or Huggies (Kimberley Clark) would wish to be associated with these anti-MMR views.

    The prospect of potentially losing advertisers might give LBC pause for thought.

  38. the chiggler said,

    February 11, 2009 at 10:25 am

    I complained to LBC about Jeni Barnett’s relentless propagandizing of the MMR hoax and received a reply from Jonathan Richards who is Programme Director LBC News. His very brief response (which ignored all the issues I raised) included the observation, “By the way you’ll also be interested to know that Jeni is now receiving abusive emails from people for merely having long held views (however naïve those views might be).” I replied to him expressing my incredulity that he could characterize Barnett’s lies and distortions as simply “naïve”, or that he could excuse them on the ground of the logical fallacy that they were “long held”. I also included the observation that in a democracy, citizens should respect each other’s beliefs; and citizens have a right to express their beliefs. But in a democracy, a broadcaster such as LBC has an obligation not to broadcast lies and excuse them as “naïve views”.
    My email was promptly returned and marked undeliverable.

  39. michael said,

    February 11, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Hi Ben,

    Firstly – hounding Jeni, not a good idea IMO. She has become metonymic for the wider problem with media reporting. Let’s see what Ofcom decide (if a little optimistically). When I complained to Ofcom I actually highlighted the use of an anonymous email claiming vaccines were carcinogenic as a significant cause of the offensive. Hopefully complaints will at least be partly upheld.

    Secondly, I’m listening to the clip on journalism.co.uk – and many of the arguments are those echoed in your book, which on the whole I enjoyed. I do have one criticism though. Your arguments are mostly sound, and I don’t disagree that the media has misrepresented and sensationalised the whole MMR controversy. However, what I do take point with, is the notion that this started in the media. Let’s not forget that this story about a connection did start in the scientific community. It emanated from a peer reviewed journal – and probably one of the most respected of those, the Lancet! Has anyone ever investigated how the paper came to be published, or how it was found to merit a press conference? What did the reviewers make of it during the peer review process? Surely there was some failing in the whole system that led to this, because make no mistake the Lancet paper – no matter how often it has been discredited, denounced, retracted, etc. – was the spark. We aren’t talking about Patrick Holford or Gillian McKeith in the MMR case – this was a peer reviewed journal article, and I don’t think the blame can be laid solely on the media.

  40. shiroboshi said,

    February 11, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Here is a thought (not sure if anyone mentioned it yet):

    Is it worth raising this issue with LBC’s advertisers? Do they want to be associated with a station that is clearly so inept at handling sensitive matters? Is it worth pointing this out to them?
    Or would this be simply vindictive? (You know, like sending lawyers after people etc.)

    Anyone got a list of advertisers at LBC?

  41. garpal gumnut said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Jeni’s posts back to Feb 3 have disappeared from her site.

    Shame is creeping in and I think she has received the global message.

    gg

  42. mikewhit said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I presume there is a “legal” version of Godwin’s ‘law’ – whoever rolls out the lawyers to stop debate is deemed to have lost the argument …?

  43. philco said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Hi Chiggler,

    I got the same error message when I replied to Jonathan Richards’ obfuscations to my own email.

    I tried firstname.lastname, which didn’t give an error message, but didn’t get a reply either.

    I very much got the feeling that he was hacked off with the number of complaint emails he’d received for a program “broadcast over 4 weeks ago”

    Shouldn’t have mishandled it so badly then…

  44. calj said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I am a long time reader of Bad Science but, unless you dust off my unused maths degree, I am not a scientist. I have no time for alt med or MMR scaremongering. In fact I can’t understand why Ben thinks that homeopathy placebo could form a useful service within the NHS. I don’t believe that for one minute. These people are beyond our reach. We can only try to limit the effect that they have on others.

    I think it’s time to leave Jeni Barnett alone. I find this whole thing rather distasteful and akin to bullying. I hope the suggestions of harassing her either at work or at public events do not come to anything. I feel that a lot of angry people with no interest in MMR, or bad science in general, have jumped on this bandwagon simply to feel justified in giving someone a hard time.

    She surely won’t do it again and LBC (and perhaps other broadcasters) will be far more careful in the future. Hopefully Ben has learnt something from this too.

  45. philco said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:14 am

    I’ve just spotted this on James Whale’s blog on LBC

    www.lbc.co.uk/james-whales-blog-3699/entry/97/2127

    “This man needs a round of applause and these hemp-bag carrying, sandal wearing mind altered hippies need to leave all us normal folk alone.”

    About a Northern Ireland Minister who blocked some climate change advertising.

    A troll to see if he can generate the same blogstorm as Jenni? He says in the same blog entry “I just wish we had followed France’s lead and gone nuclear years ago.” Which might help in combatting Global warming, which leads me to think troll.

    In addition, I remember James Whale from talk radio “oop North” as a teenager. One thing he isn’t is stupid. He’s been doing the talk radio game for a long time, and regularly filleted the ignorant and ill informed. A different class to Jenni.

  46. wickedissues said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:20 am

    On a lighter note, I tuned in to the JB show on Monday, when the topic under discussion was ‘SAD’ (you know, Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the guest was Alastair Campbell. JB opened by praising the excellent work done by a number of slebs in raising SAD awareness, being open, etc, etc. One of those name checked was … Stephen Fry!

  47. CarlottaVance said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:43 am

    38 Shiroboshi – see #36 – Great Minds and all that. I might even listen to Ms Barnett this afternoon to see who does advertise on her…..One watch out – if anyone does write, DO NOT threaten to boycott products – that is completely counter productive – more in sorrow than in anger is better: ‘I am surprised a responsible manufacturer such as XYZ would, however inadvertently, associate themselves with views which are putting children’s lives at risk, and ask you to bear this in mind next time you consider your advertising choices’….

    Interesting how they do things differently in the US – this is from the entry requirements of the Freehold Township Kindergarten:

    “Students must have all immunizations including four doses of DTP, three doses of polio vaccine, MMR, three doses of hepatitis B vaccine and one dose of varicella vaccine or a history of chicken pox”

    tinyurl.com/colgfs

  48. science_fox said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Just to say the EDM is no 754 by Lamb, Norman

    edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=37811&SESSION=899

    So that your MPs know what you are talking about.

  49. jasper said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:54 am

    MP duly requested to support EDM. Await his reply.

    Agree with SmartBlonde and Lizzie76. The grey areas are inevitable when trying to define and apply (hopefully) morally informed rules to complex areas of human activity, and sometimes it simply comes down who has the best legal team and the views of an individual judge.

    As an aside, anecdotal evidence only I know, but I think you’d be surprised at the number of lawyers who originally wanted to be medics! On the other hand, it’s clearly a slippery slope; look at the number of politicians who started as lawyers!

    Hopefully LBC/Global will take a broad view and realize that resorting to litigation will be seen as an attempt to stifle debate on an issue of huge public importance.

    Stephen Fry for Prime Minister!

  50. spk76 said,

    February 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Well it seems a few more critical comments have managed to get on to her most recent non-MMR themed blog entry:

    www.jenibarnett.com/2009/02/snow_bound.php#comments

    Wonder who approves the comments before making them live?